UT junior Nikki Fowler
Sept. 11, 2009
By Cameron Harris, Assistant Media Relations Director
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Despite taking a two-set lead, the University of Tennessee volleyball team (5-2) was unable to close out the victory against North Carolina, dropping a five-set heartbreaker, 25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 21-25, 14-16, in front of a raucous crowd of 918 Friday night at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Junior Nikki Fowler narrowly missed out on her second career triple-double, finishing with a team-high 13 kills, nine digs and eight blocks, while sophomore Kelsey Mahoney notched her first double-double of the season with 28 assists and 13 digs.
"This was a tough loss, no doubt, but the good news is that we get to come back with two matches tomorrow," UT Head Coach Rob Patrick said. "This was a good environment for our team to play in and will only help us down the road this season. We need to do a better job playing in tough venues like we were in tonight.
"We also need to become more consistent in all phases of the game," Patrick said. "That is something we struggled with today and it really caught up with us the longer the match went on. That said, we can't dwell on this loss too much because we have two matches against a couple of difficult opponents in Colorado State and Marshall tomorrow."
In addition to the strong performances by Fowler and Mahoney, the Lady Volunteers also got solid statistical efforts from senior Kylie Marshall and junior Leah Hinkey. A native of Puyallup, Wash., Marshall tallied nine kills and a season-high 16 digs, while Hinkey paced a strong blocking effort with seven putbacks. As a team, Tennessee finished with a season-best total of 17 blocks, including a solo job by freshman Leslie Cikra and 32 block assists.
It was a game of runs early in the opening frame, with the Big Orange staking claim to a 4-0 advantage right off the bat. Fowler opened the scoring with a blast from the back row, which was immediately followed by Mahoney, who used her jump float serve to notch back-to-back aces. The Tar Heels then gave UT a point with an attack error before answering with a four-score spree of their own to tie it up.
A kill by Marshall put an end to that run and sparked another streak for Tennessee that saw the Lady Vols take a 10-4 lead on the scoreboard. Following Marshall's blast off the right-side block, Hinkey and Fowler joined forces on a block and a UNC attack traveled outside the antenna to give UT another score. Cikra continued the run with a putaway from the outside before a Marshall ace forced Tar Heel Head Coach Joe Sagula to burn his first timeout of the contest.
Although Fowler put the Big Orange up 10-4 with a cross-court smash to the back-left corner of the court on the first play out of the break, North Carolina came roaring back, moving to within two with four consecutive scores. That was where the runs ended though, and the two squads proceeded to trade all but one of the next 11 points to move the tally on the scoreboard to 15-14 in favor of Tennessee.
At that point, the Lady Vols took advantage of three unforced errors from UNC during a 5-1 run that effectively ended the first set. The final two points of the spree came via kills by Fowler and Marshall. Although the Tar Heels answered with a pair of scores to move within three at 20-17, that would be as close as they would get the rest of the way as UT got back-to-back kills from Hinkey and sophomore Kayla Jeter and the two teams were able to side out the remainder of the frame.
A trio of Lady Vols tallied three kills each in the second set, leading the Orange and White to a 25-21 triumph. North Carolina raced out to the early lead, collecting four straight scores to move ahead 6-2. Not deterred in the least, Tennessee made a quick comeback, sparked by an absolute blast by Fowler on the right side. Jeter then recorded a cross-court putaway from the other side of the net and a pair of Tar Heel errors, sandwiched around a block by Fowler and senior Farren Powe, put UT up 7-6.
Although North Carolina would regain the advantage with yet another run, the Big Orange remained calm and slowly chipped away at the lead. With its deficit just two at 12-10, Tennessee took control of the set by winning four consecutive points. A cross-court smash by Cikra opened the run and Hinkey followed with a sharp solo block. Back-to-back aces by Mahoney then completed the run and put UT up for good. Neither team could keep the momentum on their side of the court for long the remainder of the frame, and the Lady Vols held on for the victory.
The Tar Heels took the lead early in the third set and never looked back en route to a 25-19 win. Tennessee simply never grabbed the momentum, allowing North Carolina to hit at a .405 clip and record 20 kills in the frame. Ingrid Hanson-Tuntland paced the UNC attack with six kills and just one error on 10 swings, good for an impressive .500 hitting percentage.
After the two teams battled to a six-all stalemate, North Carolina took a lead it would not relinquish, scoring a trio of points to go up 9-6. A strong block by Powe and Fowler on the next play brought the UT deficit back to two, which is where it remained until it reached 19-21 in favor of the Tar Heels. That would be the end of the road for the Lady Vols though, as UNC rattled off four straight scores to close out the frame.
A late run by North Carolina proved to be the difference in the fourth set, as the Tar Heels sent the match to a fifth and deciding frame with a 25-21 victory. Once again, UNC was able to halt the Tennessee offense, holding them to just seven kills and a .054 hitting percentage, while recording 15 kills of their own.
The two teams traded three-point runs early as the Orange and White took a 6-5 advantage. That lead would be short-lived though, as North Carolina responded with a 10-3 run to go up by a commanding 15-9 score.
The Lady Vols were not done fighting, however, responding with an 8-2 spree of their own, capped off by four consecutive points, to tie it up at 17-all. The final four scores came on kills by Hinkey and Jeter, a block by Powe and Jeter and an ace from junior Emily Steinbeck that just caught the back-left corner of the court.
A timeout by Sagula got his team back on track, however, and the Tar Heels proceeded to score on six of the next seven plays to go up by an insurmountable, 23-18, margin. Although UT took three of the final five scores, it was not enough as Heather Brooks finished off the frame with a kill.
Despite having just dropped back-to-back sets, the Big Orange came out on fire in the fifth frame, jumping out to a 3-1 lead behind the strength of kills from Mahoney, Marshall and Hinkey. Although North Carolina was able to bring it back to a tie, the score remained close the rest of the way. With the scoreboard reading 13-10 in favor of the Tar Heels, Tennessee returned the set to a deadlock with a three-score spree that featured a block by Hinkey and Fowler, as well as a kill by Jeter on a blast that was touched at the net and landed long.
That kill by Jeter prompted Sagula to call his first timeout, which netted a point for his squad on a putaway by Brooks that brought the contest to match point. The Orange and White was able to fight off the first attempt, getting a kill from Fowler on a cross-court smash, but North Carolina ended the match with back-to-back kills Heather Henry and Hanson-Tuntland.
The Lady Vols will look to return to their winning ways on Saturday with a pair of matches. Tennessee will first take on Colorado State at 12:30 p.m. before closing out its stay at the Carolina Classic with a 5:30 p.m. showdown against Marshall.